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United States v. Darrah

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

January 22, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
LUCINDA DARRAH, Defendant

For United States of America, Plaintiff: Margaret M. Smith, LEAD ATTORNEY, United States Attorney's Office, Detroit, MI.

For Lucinda Darrah, Defendant: Bradley R. Hall, LEAD ATTORNEY, Michigan Appellate Assigned Counsel System, Lansing, MI; Rafael C. Villarruel, Federal Defender Office, Detroit, MI.

OPINION

Honorable David M. Lawson, United States District Judge.

Lucinda Darrah was charged with " depositing literature, " and disorderly conduct in violation of postal regulations after she refused to stop handing out campaign literature on the sidewalk at the George W. Young Post Office in Detroit, Michigan. She was acquitted of the former charge, but convicted of disorderly conduct because she interfered with a postal police officer taking his equipment (including his shotgun) into the building. She appealed her conviction, arguing that her conduct was protected by the First Amendment and citing procedural errors. After reviewing the record and hearing oral argument, the Court concludes that Darrah's conduct was not protected by the First Amendment, the proceedings before the magistrate judge were procedurally sound, and the conviction was supported by the evidence. Therefore, the conviction will be affirmed.

I.

Around 10:30 p.m. on July 11, 2013, Lucinda Darrah parked her car in a handicapped parking space at the George W. Young Post Office located at 1401 West Fort Street in Detroit, Michigan. She then began to hand out campaign fliers within one foot to ten feet in front of the employee entrance to the post office. Postal officers Paul White and Christopher Taliferro observed Darrah passing out flyers several feet away from the employee entrance. The officers walked over to Ms. Darrah and informed her that she was not permitted to hand out the campaign literature on postal property, and they told her to move her car from the handicapped spot because the vehicle lacked the required placards.

Darrah did not immediately comply; Office Taliferro called Sergeant Rhonda Fudge for further assistance. Officer White testified that Darrah was a " little combative" and " erratic" because she " wanted to hand out her literature." In fact, White testified that Darrah was " standing all over the place . . . moving . . . chasing people down handing literature to them even while [the officers] were talking to her . . . chasing different people handing literature out." Officers had to coax Ms. Darrah for five to ten minutes before she agreed to comply with their orders to move her car.

About ten minutes later, Darrah returned to the post office and approached Officer Taliferro, who was bringing his equipment from the patrol car inside the building. Darrah appears to have questioned him about the postal rules and regulations. Officer White testified that Darrah " slowed down" Taliferro and " block[ed] his . . . direct access to the building."

Around this time, Darrah resumed handing out literature to postal employees and gave a leaflet to Sergeant Fudge. Fudge read Darrah the Poster 7 Postal Rules and Regulations, which describes the basic requirements governing conduct on postal property. Darrah responded by " question[ing] the law itself" because " she didn't believe that's the way it should be."

The situation escalated. Sergeant Fudge informed Darrah: " You cannot -- I told you you cannot [hand] your literature out. You cannot impede the doors." Sergeant Fudge then tried to tell Darrah where she could distribute her campaign literature. Darrah listened at first, but soon became agitated. Before Sergeant Fudge could point to the area where Darrah could pass out her campaign literature, Darrah " threw up her hands in kind of an irate matter." Sergeant Fudge testified that Darrah made contact with her fingertips, although Officer White testified that he did not see that. Following the confrontation, the officers escorted Darrah into the post office, and Sergeant Fudge issued her two tickets: one for disorderly conduct and the other for depositing literature on postal grounds. The disorderly conduct ticket stated:

I was first informed by Officers Taliaferro [sic] and White that Ms. Darrah refused to move her vehicle from the GWY Postal Customer Lot (1401 W. Fort St 48252) and she was passing out literature @ the employee's entrance of the GWY. I tried to explain to Ms. Darrah, she became disorderly and was issued 2 federal violations.

Violation, dkt. #13-2.

On September 24, 2013, then-Magistrate Judge Laurie Michelson presided over a bench trial. During the trial, Sergeant Fudge clarified that she issued the disorderly conduct ticket because " Ms. Darrah impeded the officer that was trying to bring in his shotgun into the building" and because " she became . . . somewhat disorderly with me because I was trying to help Ms. Darrah and . . . she refused to follow our instruction and she became somewhat agitated."

Judge Michelson found Darrah not guilty of depositing literature on post office property, and guilty of disorderly conduct. Judge Michelson explained that the guilty verdict was based " on [Darrah's] physical conduct with Sergeant Fudge . . . her becoming agitated when the officers tried to explain the regulations to her and also her impeding Officer Taliferro from entering the post office." The court ordered Darrah to ...


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